Another fourth-quarter lead, another fourth-quarter lead squandered. Following their emphatic victory over Houston on Saturday, the Minnesota Timberwolves got off to another fast start in Atlanta, possessing at one time an 18-point lead in the second-quarter and leading the Hawks at the half 58-44. With Rick Adelman still on personal leave due to family matters, the Pups were outsmarted in the second half and ultimately fell in Atlanta by a score of 104-96.
Al Horford scored a game-high 28 points and Minnesota had no answer for him defensively. Still without Nikola Pekovic who continues to sit due to a right thigh contusion, the Timberwolves desperately missed their bruiser in the middle. In his place, Greg Stiemsma got another start at center and played well despite his limited offensive game. For the second straight game, Stiemsma recorded 5 rebounds and 2 blocks, but this time he was able to provide 11 points as well. In 28 minutes, he was the only Timberwolves starter with a positive plus-minus (+5).
After stealing the show with his impressive Timberwolves debut against the Rockets, recently signee Chris Johnson committed 5 fouls in a mere 10 minutes and was held to only 4 points. Johnson, who hit both of his field goal attempts, has still not missed a field goal attempt for the Wolves.
The other 10-day man, Mickael Gelabale, played very well but only received 16 minutes of playing time despite making all 3 of his field goal attempts, including 1 of the teams combined 5 three-point conversions. After receiving fourth-quarter minutes over the likes of Derrick Williams last game against Houston, D-Will was on the court during crunch time while Gelabale watched the Wolves blow another late-game lead. I understand that Williams was playing very well up until the fourth-quarter, as he scored all of his 17 points through the first three quarters before being shutout in the fourth. I also understand that the team may be giving D-Will more minutes in order to potentially showcase him to other teams, but the decision to keep Gelabale on the bench when he was one of our only players drilling perimeter shots was a very confusing decision to me.
Dante Cunningham returned from illness and scored 13 points (6-10 FG) with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and only 1 turnover in 26 minutes. It was nice to get DC Hustle back to the roster, and he provided good energy in his time on the floor. Andrei Kirilenko once again did a little bit of everything, scoring 13 points (3-8 FG) with 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes. However, he turned the ball over 6 times and was out of control on many of his drives to the basket.
Having received 30 minutes of playing time on Saturday, Ricky Rubio played 25 minutes and looked timid to shoot the ball all night. Despite tallying 6 assists, Rubio scored 5 points on only 4 shot attempts, choosing to defer to a teammate even when presented with plenty of scoring opportunities. His partner in the starting backcourt, Luke Ridnour, played pretty well in 34 minutes of playing time, scoring 12 points (5-13 FG) with 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists and 3 steals.
JJ Barea had a nice game up until the end, when he made yet another crucial turnover with the game seperated by only 4 points with a few minutes remaining in the fourth-quarter. JJ was a team-high +6 on the floor and dazzled Atlanta fans with a few fancy finishes in traffic at the rim. Barea finished with 14 points (6-11 FG), 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 turnovers in 23 minutes.
Keys of the Game
- Three-point Shooting: ATL 10-16, MN 5-14 – Minnesota did a poor job of making in-game adjustments to cover Atlanta shooters Kyle Korver and Jannero Pargo, and each shooter had plenty of open looks which contributed to Atlanta shooting 62.5% as a team from deep. Korver has been drilling open three-pointers year after year, and he will continue to punish teams that do not close out properly. Former Pup Anthony Tolliver scored all of his 6 points drilling both of his three-point attempts.JJ Barea led the Pups with 2 three-pointers, and the rest of the team managed to convert on only 3 more. Depending on what the Timberwolves’ strategy for the rest of the season is, it may be time to start to put serious consideration into trading for a player like JJ Redick.
- Passing (Team Assists): ATL 32, MN 24 – Ball movement was crucial to Atlanta’s second-half success in the half court offense, and their passing into the interior helped establish Al Horford on the low block and around the rim. One of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA, Atlanta’s offense depends on a series on screens designed to get their shooters open, and starting PG Jeff Teague did a very good job of finding open teammates on the perimeter. Teague led the Hawks with 10 assists.
- Bench Scoring: ATL 55, MN 38 – This game came down to a battle of depth, and Atlanta took advantage of the Wolves’ injury-depleted roster with help from Pargo, Korver, and Mike Scott. Scott, a rookie out of Virginia, scored a career high 11 points and pulled down 7 rebounds while bringing good energy off of the bench for a Hawks team that got off to a slow start.
Three Stars of the Game
- Al Horford: Quite a productive night on both ends of the floor for Horford, who was the beneficiary of some impressive high-low passing from his teammates, particularly Josh Smith. The Florida product made mincemeat of what remains of Minnesota’s depleted frontcourt, and hit 12 of his 20 field goal attempts on his way to a game-high 28 points. On the defensive end, Horford swatted 3 shots and recorded 2 steals while pulling down 10 rebounds in 38 minutes. The oft-injured center for Atlanta has found a way to stay healthy this season having now played in 39 of the team’s 41 games so far.
- Jannero Pargo: Minnesota is not the only team getting help from their 10-day players. After being signed to a 10-day contract on Monday morning, Pargo returned to Atlanta and hit 4 of his 5 three-point attempts, helping to fuel a fourth quarter comeback and securing the win with some clutch shooting. The 33-year-old veteran came through for a Hawks team in desperate need of backcourt help, and finished with 16 points (6-11 FG), 4 assists and no turnovers in an impressive performance off the bench.
- Josh Smith: J-Smoove put on full display the evolution of his game since his earlier years in the league with his passing and shot selection against the Timberwolves, scoring only 10 points (5-8 FG) but tallying 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Smith was a master at finding Horford moving around in the paint, and established a dominant high-low game with Horford which dissected the Timberwolves defense in the second half. In 34 minutes, Smith was a game-high +18 on the floor.